Because of its enormous fame and popularity, you could be forgiven for thinking that Spain’s rice dishes start and finish with the proverbial Paella. The truth, however, is another story. The influence of rice on Spanish cookery is undeniable and many interesting and varied dishes exist in every region throughout Spain. It is paired with meat, fish, shellfish and vegetables and is widely used to thicken stews and soups.
Rice, as well as being one of the world’s most important crops, is the symbol of life and fertility and is thrown over the bride and groom at Spanish weddings. In culinary terms, there are three basic kinds: long, medium and short grain. Long grain is traditionally used in savoury dishes and short grain in dessert cooking, although this varies across the globe. Wholegrain rice has a nuttier taste and contains more fibre and nutrients, but takes longer to cook.
Valencia produces virtually all of the rice in Spain; it has been grown in the Albufera region of Valencia since the beginning of the nineteenth century. Its production spread north along the Mediterranean coast to the Delta Del Ebro and south into Extramadura and Mallorca. Growing in still water, the rice commonly used for paella stretches out for miles in enormous fields. However, each year a tiny amount of the very best rice in Spain is cultivated in the village of Calasparra in the neighbouring region of Murcia. They grow two historic varieties called Callasparra and the coveted Bomba, which was nearly extinct until gourmet chefs recently recognized its superior qualities. It is cultivated by hand in rice paddies along the banks of the Segura River. At 1300 feet above sea level, the constant flow of cold fresh mountain water means that the rice matures more slowly than it would in the still flats along the Valencian shore. It produces a harder grain with less moisture, absorbing one third more broth while retaining its integrity.
One of my favourites is arroz abanda from Alicante. Abanda means apart and is a meal in itself, traditionally served in 2 courses. A mixture of fish, sometimes shellfish, are poached in stock and removed. The stock is then used to flavour the rice and the fish and shellfish are served separately, usually with aioli potatoes. Arroz Negro is another spectacular black rice dish flavoured with cuttlefish and coloured with its own ink.
ARROZ NEGRO CON SEPIA
This rice dish is great served on it’s own but is delicious served with a piece of freshly grilled fish on top and some garlic aioli
Ingredients: serves 6
1 green pepper (chopped)
2 large garlic cloves (chopped)
500g cleaned cuttlefish or squid (diced)
100ml olive oil
1litre fish stock
2 tomatoes (peeled and chopped)
4 ink sachets*
Heat the olive oil in a wide frying pan or a paellera (paella dish). Sweat the onions, green pepper and garlic until softened. Add the paprika, chopped tomatoes and cuttlefish and cook gently for another 6-8 minutes.
Add the fish stock and the ink sachets, and then bring to the boil. Season with salt and pepper and add the rice.
Simmer over a gentle flame until the rice is cooked and the liquid has all been absorbed, about 12-15 minutes. Remove from the heat and rest for 3-4 minutes before serving.
*All Spanish supermarkets stock frozen ink sachets and I have even seen them in some British ones as well. If you have trouble finding these then ask your friendly fishmonger for 3-4 fresh ink sacs from the cuttlefish or squid.
ARROZ BOMBA CON AZAFRAN, BOGAVANTE Y TOMATES SECOS
SPANISH STYLE SAFFRON RICE WITH LOBSTER & SUN-DRIED TOMATOES
Ingredients: serves 4
400g cooked lobster meat, sliced
5g fresh saffron (you can use powder)
700ml fish stock
3 sprig fresh chervil
100g finely grated Parmesan
300g “Bomba” rice
1tbsp. Chopped chives
4tbsp olive oil
50g unsalted butter
2 shallots, chopped finely
1 crushed clove of garlic
3 sun-dried cherry tomatoes cut in half
1 bunch of rucula
Add enough olive oil to cover the bottom of a thick-bottomed pan, heat and add shallots and garlic. Sweat gently until they start to break down. Add the Bomba rice, saffron and stir. Add a little hot fish stock until the rice is just covered and continue to stir until all the liquid has been absorbed. Over a medium heat, continue to add the stock gradually and stir until all the stock has been absorbed and the rice has softened.
Add the mascarpone, grated Parmesan and season to taste. The rice should be light and creamy. Stir in the olive oil, chopped chives and top with the cooked lobster meat and sun-dried tomatoes. Garnish with some rocket leaves and serve immediately.
Marc Fosh – Michelin Star Chef